Just us….all of us!
Published 12 October 2016
I’ve been thinking about why people volunteer with us. There are a range of different reasons. Many of them start with something like “I just want to give something back.” That statement is pretty broad, and is often what people say when they haven’t yet identified why they want to be involved. In the last few years many volunteers have told me that spending time working with us has helped them through very difficult times in their own life, helped them develop a sense of identity and given them a place where they feel accepted.
One morning recently on a particularly busy day, a colleague came to tell me that one of our volunteers wasn’t feeling well and was being assessed by the nurse. They were concerned because she seemed quite tearful. I went to see her and she said over and over “I’m so sorry, I don’t want to let you down.” She said it in between sobs so it took a while for me to really hear what she was saying. I reassured her that the other volunteers in her work area would be fine and after being given the all clear by the nurse she agreed to come and sit for a drink and a rest. She was still very tearful and eventually said “You don’t know what you’ve done! All this….this!” and beckoned at the tea room with her arms. I thought at first she might have been saying that we had done something to upset her, but her son, a fellow volunteer who was there with us looked at me and said “Mum means that in a good way.” Between her crying and me catching her emotion and getting teary also, I realised, without her needing to elaborate, what she meant.
She was trying to tell me that she had found a place where she felt she belonged, felt part of a family, found a sense of deep satisfaction from being able to contribute and felt that there was a sense of being one amongst equals. It is a lovely aspect of our team at 139 Club. We all have different roles, be it as a CEO, a volunteer driving a truck, a person providing one on one support to our guests, we are all people sharing an experience of working together. I gave her a copy of this to read to test her comfort levels with me publishing it and she told me I have articulated her thoughts exactly.
I smiled to myself recently when I realised that a man who had come to install some new equipment in our building had, after about four days, become part of our team. He ate with us, shared in our jokes and storytelling and when he finished his work after ten days told me how much he had enjoyed his time with us. “It’s been eye opening and a lot of fun.” were his parting words. After spending the last five days with our electricians they left today. They came in before leaving and thanked us for our hospitality and for creating a warm and welcoming environment to work in. It’s the same with the man who empties our sharps containers. His visits with us are now nothing to do with the containers themselves, but about the chats we all have and the stories we share. The people who come to bring supplies to our kitchen, our fire inspectors and visiting groups are the same. They are all part of us, and we become part of them. We like seeing their smiling faces and hearing how they are. They all come with an openness and readiness to join us for a short time.
We are not to everyone’s taste. Someone recently told us that we brought “undesirables” to the area. I always feel sad to hear people say things like this because they are words that breed separation, distrust and hatred. They are words that come from a place where the differences between people are highlighted. It’s easy to disconnect and detach from people when we focus on our differences. Them and us. It’s everywhere in our world. When we focus on the commonalities we have with others we start to inch closer to them and we begin to care. Them and us starts to disappear. We all start life being born in the same way (relatively speaking), with the same needs. Somewhere along the way our lives start to look different, but there are always elements we have in common. I sat across from a man today and he told me I was glowing with health. I told him I was worried about him because he wasn’t glowing, and in fact looked very unwell. What we had in common in that moment is there was no them and us, just an us. Maybe that’s why people find us. Maybe that’s why many people like us. The magic is in what we all have in common. The magic is there is just an us. All of us.